Spaceflight Now: Breaking News

NEAR rendezvous burn a success
Posted: Feb. 4, 2000

Recent image of Eros by NEAR. Photo: JHU/APL
Preliminary indications show the NEAR spacecraft is on a steady path to Eros, after a braking maneuver Thursday adjusted its approach speed and trajectory toward the large asteroid.

At noon EST, NEAR's medium-sized thrusters fired for 90 seconds and eased the spacecraft from 43 mph (relative to Eros) to 18 mph. The maneuver also moves NEAR's trajectory about 60 miles (100 kilometers) closer to its target.

The operation was a slightly modified version of the rendezvous burn scheduled for Feb. 2, which was canceled after NEAR went into "safe" hold early Wednesday morning. Mission operators at the Applied Physics Laboratory sent new commands to NEAR late last night, dividing the original Feb. 2 maneuver into two parts. A second burn on Feb. 8 will bump NEAR's approach speed to 22 mph and put it back on its original track to the asteroid.

"We were able to come back right away and devise a turnaround burn," says NEAR Mission Director Bob Farquhar. "It really shows the resiliency of the mission plans."

All critical science operations - including a low-phase flyby on Feb. 13 - remain on schedule. The flyby will put NEAR directly between the sun and Eros, affording a unique opportunity to map the asteroid's minerals under optimal lighting.

NEAR is now 5,047 miles (8,123 kilometers) away from Eros, which it will reach and begin orbiting on Valentine's Day.

On February 14 NEAR will fire its thrusters and begin to orbit Eros, becoming the first artificial satellite of any asteroid. NEAR is designed to return science data to answer fundamental questions about the origin and composition of asteroids, comets and our solar system.

Built and managed by The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Maryland, NEAR was the first spacecraft launched in NASA's Discovery Program of low-cost, small-scale planetary missions.

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